STATESBORO — New Georgia Southern football coach Willie Fritz knew he would be asked at his introductory press conference Friday about the type of offense he plans to run.
His only surprise was that it took until the second question.
“The over-under was that was going to be the first question,” joked Fritz, who has been a head coach for 21 years, including the past four at Sam Houston State University.
For many GSU fans, the option offense is as much a part of the program’s identity as the plain uniforms the Eagles wear or the creaky old school buses they ride to Paulson Stadium on gameday. In the 18 days between Jeff Monken’s departure for Army and Fritz’s hiring, message boards and social media sites were flooded with Eagle fans clamoring for a coach who would retain the familiar offense.
That was reiterated, Fritz said, by an Eagle great who served on GSU’s coaching search committee.
“Tracy Ham told me during the interview process, ‘Coach, at your press conference, you need to just say two words — triple option,” Fritz said.
He then uttered the words many in attendance wanted to hear: “We’re a triple option-type team.”
Fritz was quick to point out that, “We do it a different way than what y’all have been doing it here at Georgia Southern,” often out of “pistol” formations. But, he added, “We’re going to run the football and we’re going to run if effectively.”
Under Fritz, Sam Houston State averaged 265 rushing yards, 450.6 total yards and 41.1 points per game in 2013. Georgia Southern led all of Division I with 360.4 yards rushing per game, while averaging 451.5 total yards and 33.5 points.
“If you look at Willie’s offenses the last four years and compare them to our offenses, statistically they’re almost identical,” said Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein.
With national signing day looming on Feb. 5, Fritz stressed the urgency to hire his coaching staff and “jump right into recruiting.” He said he had spoken with some of his former SHSU assistants about joining him in Statesboro.
Fritz said he also would consider keeping current GSU assistant coaches who did not follow Monken to Army. Offensive coordinator Brent Davis and three other offensive assistants — Mitch Ware, Sean Saturnio and Lamont Seward — joined Monken’s staff at West Point.
“There will be some guys from my previous staff that’ll join us here,” Fritz said. “I’m going to visit with all of those guys that are still currently here (at GSU), and we’ll see where that leads. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there would be a staff member or two that would be on our staff.”
Kleinlein confirmed that Fritz was one of four candidates who visited Statesboro to interview for the job. The other three were Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, Wofford head coach Mike Ayers and Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton.
All four of the candidates were from programs with run-oriented offenses. Kleinlein acknowledged that “the triple option was a part of our evaluation process” in the coaching search.
“Not so much because of the triple option but the point of, our team is currently built to run that style of offense,” he said. “So the best way to get immediate success is to come in and do some things that have those same principles.”
Fritz led Sam Houston State to 40 wins in four years, including back-to-back appearances in the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game in 2011 and 2012. He also posted marks of 97-47 in 13 seasons at Central Missouri and 39-5-1 in four years at Blinn College, for a 21-year total of 176-67-1 (a 72.3 winning percentage).
The difference between Georgia Southern and his three previous coaching stops, he said, is that those programs “were really on a downward spiral” when he took the helm.
“Here at Georgia Southern, that’s not the case,” Fritz said. “The challenge here at Georgia Southern University is to attain the same type of success that you’ve had at the FCS level at the highest level of competition in college football.”
Fritz will lead the Eagles in their move up from FCS to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference. He offered a simple way to win over fans who are not onboard with Georgia Southern’s move to FBS — win games.
“I’ve learned that cures all ills,” he said. “I think the people just want to see student-athletes … competing and representing their university in a first-class manner, but winning also is always factored in there as well.”
More on the search process that landed Willie Fritz as Georgia Southern’s head football coach, the expectations for him and the details of his contract.